Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 4, 2023

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 21 of 55

22 NOV. 4, 2023 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED TURNING POINT On the final play of Pitt's first offensive possession, the Panthers elected to punt on a fourth-and-3 from their own 35-yard line. Redshirt sophomore punter Caleb Junko delivered a 47-yard kick in the middle of the field to senior return man Chris Tyree. Tyree appeared to be bottled up and destined for only a short gain. Instead, the shifty speedster broke at least five tackles in tight quarters, spun out, ma- neuvered around several other Pitt defenders, found an opening and was off to the races with an 82-yard touchdown return that provided Notre Dame an electric early lead of 7-0. The Irish special teams have come up big in back- to-back games. Against USC Oct. 14, Notre Dame sophomore running back Jadarian Price returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave the Irish a comfortable 38-20 lead. STATS OF THE GAME It's difficult to pinpoint stats that made the biggest dif- ference in such a lopsided contest, but a few stand out. The Irish outgained the Panthers 535 to 255 in total yards, marking the third-highest offensive output Notre Dame has posted this season. Notre Dame also held Pitt to only 1 of 11 (9.1 percent) on third-down con- versions and won the turnover battle 5-2, the second straight game in which it has collected 5 takeaways. Six different Irish players scored touchdowns against Pitt — two rushers, two defenders, one re- ceiver and one punt returner — on a day that gradu- ate student quarterback Sam Hartman did not throw a touchdown pass. The 58-point final tally was the most points the Irish have scored in a game since it beat New Mexico 66-14 in 2019. Notre Dame scored on 6 of 7 red zone trips while Pitt on offense only crossed midfield three times. The Irish defense held the Panthers to 53 rush- ing yards, the fewest Notre Dame has allowed this season. DEFENSIVE DOMINANCE In the 48-20 win over USC in their previous game, the Irish won the turnover battle 5-0 and parlayed those 5 takeaways into 28 points. Staying on script against Pitt, Notre Dame won the turnover battle 5-2 and turned those takeaways into 23 points. With 18 takeaways already through nine games — including 10 in the last two outings — the Irish have already surpassed their turnover total of 15 (in 13 games) in 2022. Most impressive against Pitt, Notre Dame played most of this game with two of its best and/or most experienced cornerbacks out with injuries. Sophomore Benjamin Morrison missed the game with an injured quad and graduate student Cam Hart left the game in the second quarter and didn't return. Filling their voids, freshman Christian Gray recorded his first career interception, and sophomore Jaden Mickey also enjoyed the first pickoff of his career, returning it 43 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to push the Irish lead to 31-0. THREE OBSERVATIONS BY TODD D. BURLAGE TAILBACK AUDRIC ESTIMÉ The Irish junior set an emphatic early tone for Notre Dame against Pitt, recording 10 carries for 67 yards and 1 touchdown in the first half while Notre Dame built a 17-0 lead. The bruising tailback didn't miss a beat in the second half, finishing the game with 19 carries for 114 yards and 3 touch- downs — the first time in his career he had 3 rushing scores in a game. In Notre Dame's seven wins this season, Estimé has averaged 101.4 rushing yards per game, while he managed only 45.0 yards per outing in its two losses. WIDE RECEIVER/PUNT RETURNER CHRIS TYREE The Irish senior enjoyed a great game with 3 catches on 3 targets for 62 yards while adding a nifty 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter when he broke at least five tackles and helped Notre Dame to a 7-0 lead. It was Tyree's first punt return for a touchdown in his career. He also has one kickoff return in his career for a score. The highlight of Tyree's day as a wide receiver came in the first quarter when on a second-and-17, the Irish speedster made a highlight-reel catch over his shoulder while blanketed by two Pitt defend- ers, a play that went for 47 yards. SAFETY XAVIER WATTS On the heels of his career game in a 48-20 win over USC Oct. 14 — when the Irish senior recorded 7 tackles, 2 interceptions and a late scoop-and-score touchdown off a fumble recovery — Watts picked up where he left off against the Panthers when he posted 3 tackles (1 for loss) and 2 more interceptions. Playing mainly as a single-high safety, Watts was essentially a center fielder in the Irish defense when he secured his pair of easy pickoffs. His 2 interceptions against Pitt gave him 6 on the season, which leads all FBS players. GAME BALLS BY TODD D. BURLAGE Junior tailback Audric Estimé became the first Irish ball carrier to rush for 3 touchdowns in one game since Kyren Williams did it in 2020. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER

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